Unfortunately, both cancer and heart disease are common in our society. It is not uncommon for heart disease specialists to encounter patients who also have cancer. In treating patients who have both cancer and heart disease, special care must be given to both disorders, in order to provide optimum care.
In general terms, cancer may affect the heart in three ways:
- Cancer may arise from the heart itself.
- Cancer may spread from some other site to the heart through a process known as metastasis.
- Cancer treatments such as radiation or chemotherapy may affect the heart.
Cancers arising from the heart are extraordinarily rare and are, unfortunately, very seldom treatable. Most of these malignant tumors of the heart are of a type known as sarcoma, and are very rapid growing. Non-cancerous tumors of the heart are much more common, and these are completely curable, using today’s modern surgical technique. Far more common than cancer arising from the heart is a cancer that has spread to the heart or to the surrounding heart sack. Most commonly, this is cancer of the lung, stomach, breast or esophagus.
The recognition and treatment of this complication of cancer is extremely important and requires prompt attention.
The treatment of cancer may also adversely affect the heart. Cancer chemotherapy may cause weakening of the heart muscle, resulting in a condition known as congestive heart failure. Radiation therapy, when it involves the heart, may lead to the acceleration of coronary artery disease or the development of other problems related to weakening of the heart muscle.
Because of the above possibilities, patients with cancer who are receiving therapy frequently undergo extensive heart evaluation to determine their level of heart function, and to be sure that any therapy delivered is safe and effective.